As we approach the end of the school year, juniors and seniors are once again bombarded with questions interrogating them about their future. One word pops up again and again: “college.” Teachers want to know what colleges you’re touring and applying to, your family is pushing you anxiously towards beginning the process and making a commitment, and the school receives visits from college representatives nearly every day. But what about students pursuing an alternative route after high school? Schools discourage valuable experiences in trade, instead pushing the college agenda and turning students away from reaching what could be their greatest potential.
The abundance of resources for students planning to attend college is not a bad thing; it would be much worse to throw students out into the world after graduation with no idea what they’re doing. At Avonworth, students have no shortage of access to help with any step of the college process. This doesn’t mean our school should stop providing these resources and information; rather, it needs to address everyone else. When a minority is put down in society, the majority should not be torn down or stripped of their advantages, but the minority should be raised to the same standard, accommodated until the “advantages” of their counterparts are no longer an advantage over them. While students pursuing a trade aren’t quite in an oppressive system, their college-bound peers have advantages impossible to turn a blind eye to. They need to be provided with the same amount of resources. The resources will be completely different, but their purpose is the same: to prepare students for their lives outside of high school. If students attending college are armed with the resources needed to be successful the moment they graduate, shouldn’t their peers have the same? The moment the graduation ceremony is cleaned up on the field and students part their campus in cap and gown, those entering the workforce are at an immediate disadvantage (not because of their career choice, but because of the American school system’s obsession with college).
For all the time spent preparing students for college, schools must dedicate the same amount of time to preparing them for the workforce. Most importantly, the workforce and pursuit of a trade must be treated as equal. I enrolled in Beattie’s cosmetology program a year later than I wanted to. This was because my parents hesitated to even consider letting someone in their family enroll in trade school. So why does this stigma exist? Why is the fear of not attending college so deeply ingrained in our culture? In our parents’ generation, homeowners with stable jobs are still suffering the effects of crippling student loan debt decades after their graduation; in fact, many of those under the weight of this debt did not even graduate from the college they’re still paying off. If this is so, why do the same parents anxiously shove their children towards college enrollment?
The answer is in the American mob mentality of equating college attendance with intelligence. Students who choose not to attend college for any reason are deemed dropouts. Though people often dance around it and won’t say it so bluntly, there’s a hidden bias in all those of us raised that students not in college are, plainly, dumber.
This stigma turns students away from entering trades. No matter how many personal benefits they can see in any choice other than college, embedded in their beliefs, there is an internalized bias against it.
I didn’t see myself in any future without a college degree until I looked into the option of Beattie. If I hadn’t opened myself to the possibility, I don’t know where I would be now — likely lost and miserable, applying to colleges and dreading the next four years, then entering a mediocre academic profession and living in debt from deciding my entire future at 17. Of course, this is not the experience of every college student, but it would be mine. Beattie is an opportunity for a happier future for many students, as are all trade schools. Every American student does not reach their greatest potential in the same manner, so why do schools act as if college is the only option? Why should college be the default, condemning all students to the same future and failing to show them the variety of options available to them? More than that, what would society do without skilled trade workers? Where would we be without (to name only a few of the skills students are trained on at Beattie) cosmetologists, construction workers, chefs, pharmacists, surgeons, and dentists? These professionals are needed for our society, and yet society is turning more and more students away from futures in these vital careers. High schools’ fixation on forcing all students into a traditional secondary education is keeping students from indispensable positions in our society and shrouding the options that could lead to their greatest fulfillment and reaching their highest potential. If schools want to allow students to grow into varied successful professionals instead of forcibly conforming debtors, they must begin to see trade school in a new light and allow students to see the opportunities outside of college.